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More Than 10,000 Lakes: Minnesota National Parks

Straddling almost the exact geographical center line of the U.S., Minnesota is unlike almost anywhere else in the continental U.S. It’s located up against the southern border of Canada and the famous Mississippi River. The state is where the diverse regions and cultures that make America special begin to mingle and co-exist. 

To the north of the state, the feeling and energy are almost more Canadian than American, adopting its neighbor’s traditions and subtle linguistic style. To the west are the beginnings of the great western prairie land that stretches for thousands of miles, where buffalo once roamed by the millions. And The “Twin Cities” metropolitan areas of Minneapolis and St. Paul are as cosmopolitan as Chicago. 

It is rare in this part of the country to have one foot firmly in the urban bustle of modern life while also feeling a little like a region stuck in a long ago, unadulterated past.

With its pastoral forests and abundance of pristine and clear lakes, the Gopher State defines the American Midwest in the 21st century.

It is no surprise to learn that a state with this much depth and diversity of geography and culture would be a veritable goldmine of exciting places to visit.

Below are some must-stop sites when traveling through the Land of 10,000 Lakes:

Mississippi National River and Recreation Area: In conversations about the most famous of all American rivers, Minnesota is often left out of the discussion. When the mind’s eye wanders to the Mighty Mississippi, sweltering nights on the bayou and riverboats running through muddy water likely come to mind. But the river begins its journey through the U.S. right here, and this national park in the Twin Cities preserves its beauty and importance for visitors of all shapes, sizes, and interests. For more than 72 miles, this national recreation area offers the opportunity to commune with nature by boating, fishing, hiking, canoeing, and bird watching. It also gives you the chance to pop in and learn about the importance of the Mississippi River to the region and America.

Photo Courtesy NPS

Grand Portage National Monument: It wasn’t all that long ago that this region was on the front lines of the new American West and was the very definition of the word “frontier.” Due to its harsh winters and abundance of water sources, this area of what would become Minnesota became a treasure trove for hunters, fur trappers, and traders. This national monument tells the story of one of the most critical factors in sustaining a thriving economy in those days on the fringes of the known world: cooperation between Indigenous Tribes and the European and White settlers that were expanding into the West. The partnership of the Grand Portage Ojibwe Native Americans and the North West Company during the bustling American fur trade is one example of that cooperation. Stop in to see the sights and sounds of the famed depot on the banks of Lake Superior.

Photo Courtesy NPS

North Country National Scenic Trail: A famous Minnesotan, the great Bob Dylan, once wrote lovingly of a girl from “the north country.” After visiting this national scenic trail, it should be easy to understand Dylan’s affection for the region’s majestic beauty and the people. This national scenic trail stretches across eight states and offers a diversity of topography unparalleled in the upper Midwest. Walk through valleys and prairies, over hills and streams, and linger beside an ancient lake. You can also sit under a giant, star-speckled Minnesota night sky and soak up what this incredible part of the country has to offer.

Photo Courtesy NPS

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